Playing the fool

“Being a fool” is not the same as “playing the fool”. The smartest people know this and put it into practice. Woody Allen, the famous film director and actor, is a master of the art of “playing dumb”. His films are amusing because, in presenting the contradictions of humans, he not without reason attacks their weaknesses, their inconsistent logic, their presumptuous vanity… almost always with a touch of moralism. You get the feeling that he continually plays at “playing the fool”, which is his clever way of breaking through the hard dyke of stereotypes and social clichés.

Playing the fool” is not an exceptional procedure. It is considered a universally used resource. All societies have used it and continue to use it, albeit to varying degrees. “Playing dumb” avoids conflicts and, incidentally, influences the decisions taken by others, since feigning ignorance makes others feel unthreatened, listen and even change their minds. It was cleverly mocked by the one who loved to listen to lies when he knew the truth. Those of us who are not so young still remember the TV series of detective Colombo: he constantly used the technique of playing the fool to make the suspect relax and give himself away. In martial arts it is taught that “when you are strong you must pretend to be weak”, so that your opponent will underestimate you. There would be more examples.

Nor is the phrase “playing the fool” as alien to us as some might suspect. We must confess that we have all behaved like this at least once in our lives: sometimes we have done it out of naivety, sometimes out of prudence, sometimes out of cunning in order to avoid an annoying situation, or to learn the other’s secret intentions…

There is a noble way of “playing the fool”. It is steeped in the Gospel and is a superior form of behaviour: “Playing the fool for love”. The one who truly loves lowers himself to the level of the other, avoids being the centre. In this way he avoids in advance fears and roughness that cool relationships and facilitates closeness and encounter. It shows the humble and gratuitous side of love. When we think more about loving and doing good than about looking good, we are all better off, even if people think we are crazy.

But the proof of the exceptional nature of such behaviour is that we then realise it and never regret it. This is a sign of intelligence. Let us not confuse it with the foolishness of fools. To them we should say that “it is better to be silent and look foolish than to speak and clear up doubts for good” (Groucho Marx).


Juan Carlos cmf

(PHOTO: Junior REIS)


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